Friday Garden Advice

First Seedlings

First Seedlings

Starting a garden is not always easy, especially if one lives in a city.

The main thing is planting the first time and that can be a big step.

The good news is the potential to stumble is more related to attitude than anything else. There is hope. Here are a few bits to get started.

A gardening journey can begin with a trip to the public library to browse the stacks. A lot of gardening books have it all and my current favorites are The Iowa Edition of the Midwest Fruit and Vegetable Book by James A. Fizzell, and MiniFARMING: Self sufficiency on 1/4 acre by Brett L Markham. The former is a comprehensive look at crops that grow well in the Midwest. The latter presents aspects of the growing process with an eye toward sustainability. Because gardening is popular, libraries tend to have a wide selection of research materials and other resources. Remember. Gardening is engaging in a local food system and book learning is only part of it.

Gardening is about changing one’s relationship with the food as much as providing food for the table — process more than produce.  A common mistake is inadequate attention to gardening’s social context. I’ve heard stories of people seeking solace in tilling the ground and nurturing plants from seeds to fruit and vegetables — a form of personal retreat. In most cases gardening involves others — family, fellow consumers, merchants, farmers and gardeners. Discussion of gardening issues and their resolution is endemic to the process and represents the broader context in which gardening occurs.

When people think of local food, most have sweet corn and tomatoes in mind. There is a lot more. A way to begin is to think about what fresh veggies and fruit to buy and which to grow. Because of the space it takes, I always buy sweet corn rather than grow it myself. The other way around with tomatoes and green beans. Squash takes a lot of space, and there are lots of great producers of it everywhere… another to buy. Bell peppers require a certain something I haven’t mastered, so I barter for mine, taking seconds from the farm. Why not buy local food when it is abundant, especially if you know the farmer and how the crops are grown?

If you have a small potential garden plot, I recommend picking 8-12 crops and focus on learning how to grow them well. Pick varieties to ripen throughout the season — spring greens and onions, a few herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and kale are all easy to grow. The idea is to dip into the soil and experiment using available resources. Another part most people dislike is dealing with pests and predators. Use those books you checked out from the library and better yet, develop friendships with other gardeners and growers in your area — ask them questions, visit their farms. You’ll find gardening is one of the most popular activities and there is lots to talk about, especially when it comes to common problems.

With a positive attitude, there is little to lose in planting a garden. Once one turns the first spade of soil, there is a world worth experiencing in the microcosm of a back yard. Before long, you’ll be craving life in society to talk about your garden. It is about more than home grown fruit and vegetables.

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